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Beta Impressions: Medal of Honor
by Chris Hawke

If we had to condense all the problems of the Medal of Honor Beta into a few words, it would be that we already have Battlefield: Bad Company 2. And while it's a good game, we don't feel like spending another £40 for what feels like an expansion pack that removed the best aspects.

Let's start at the top - if you're lucky enough to get a beta key, then your download will weigh in at a surprisingly light 617MB, and within the hour you're up and running. You're hit with the menu first. It's hard to tell if this is a placeholder, but it feels rather bland. Of course, you have the options to play online, with a friend, or alter your loadout and check the unlocks. There's no ability to change your character's looks, but that will be present in the main game.

So, after tinkering with your tools of death, you're straight in to play a game. Our first map was Kabul City Ruins, in which 24 players duke it out to kill the opposition team the most. We think they call it a 'Team Deathmatch'. It'll never catch on. Swiftly, you're allowed to choose between your Rifleman set-up, an all-rounder; your Spec Ops, which is just close-range; or your Sniper. Guess what that does. In our match, we spawned right next to the friendly fellas from official PlayStation Magazine UK. They died within seconds.

And that's when our heart dropped. In case you don't know, while the single-player is being handled by a team at EA, the multiplayer is down to DICE, the self-proclaimed king of online shooters. As soon as you walk forward, your gun bobbles back and forth exactly as it does in Bad Company 2. When you look down the sights, it zooms in exactly the same. Even the red dot sight on the sniper is exactly the same.

Luckily, sounds are also the same. For the most part, this means firing a gun in a building is like setting alight to an overexcited dragon - you might wanna turn your speakers down. Similarly, the battlefield is wrought with screams from your buddies, explosions, and radio chatter. There are some weak points, such as grenades exploding with a half-hearted whimper, but nothing that can't be tweaked before release.

The graphics, however, are not the same. While Bad Company 2 can focus on anything from snow-capped oil rigs to lush, steamy jungle; Medal of Honor takes the same weapon sway, character movements, and explosions, and then lets a five-year-old child colour them in with brown crayon. We've never been one to complain about a colour scheme - Fallout 3 was grey, yes, but it was grey for a reason. Medal of Honor is aggressively brown, with no justification. The bright, lividly-coloured explosions from Bad Company 2 are replaced with a rainbow of beige. Walls are brown, with specks of grey. Character models' clothes are caked in dust and dirt, while everything else - from cars to foliage - is brown. It gets to the point where you're walking towards explosions just because it lights the screen up with yellow: you feel starved of the beauty of the spectrum. Graphical mediocrity is not limited to the palette; the flare from a gun when you fire it looks like you're shooting out pure flour - the blaze is larger than the character itself, meaning you can't see what you're firing at, only see a haze of yellow. The planes that fly overhead seem to be going at three miles per hour, and explosions throw debris up in the air that immediately vanishes. We're sure some of the drabness could be fixed before October, but the sickly colour scheme coupled with the similarity to Bad Company 2 means it might no be contenting with Modern Warfare 2 on the looks scale - it might be on par with MAG.

The gameplay, though, is where the real disappointment hits. We had been led to believe that Medal of Honor would provide a more realistic experience, generating a feeling totally new to FPS genre of fast-paced battles and vigilance necessary at all times. Maybe that is true in the single player, but the multiplayer feels like Battefield, minus it's best features. There's no blowing holes in walls. The Kabul map is horrifically small (think Vacant from Call of Duty 4), so 24 players bounce around like mayflies, spraying lead non-stop until someone spawns behind them and puts a knife into them. It takes an age to kill anything - while a headshot will bring them down fast, the sticky aiming means you're more likely to be pointing your gun at their body, and then it becomes a simple case of whose gun fires faster. It takes pretty much a whole pistol clip to make an impact, and even with the sniper - which years of gaming taught us is slow but incredibly deadly - takes up to four bullets to end a life, and by that stage the enemy has probably finished his picnic, packed everything up and leisurely strolled off behind a building. Even the bog-standard AK47 takes a good two seconds of non-stop fire on a target to get a kill. It's 'fast paced' just because the play area is so tiny that, as soon as you spawn, you hold down the fire button and you're bound to hit something, then get capped in the back after 10 seconds.

Yes, that's a little harsh. There is small joy to be garnished from taking out three players with a random grenade, but it's the joy we expect from the likes of Modern Warfare easy modes - teams bouncing off walls and spraying lead, with the last man standing being victorious. Medal of Honor was meant to be a thinking man's game, one about teamwork, tactics and adrenaline, but ends up feeling like a Bad Company knock-off with the best features, like destructible environments and epic landscapes removed. The second map, Helmand Valley, goes some way to rectifying this, with a much larger and more beautiful map, and one objective means the action is channeled into certain areas, but the problem remains that when you actually find a bad guy, the jerky aiming and weak weapons turn it into a game of hit-and-hope, rather than skill.

It's hard to tell how much of the Beta is representative of the real game. Are animations from Battlefield just placeholders? Will the damage system be revamped? Right now, from the Beta, Medal of Honor online is a rather disappointing slew of déjà vu and lacklustre gameplay.

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- Chris Hawke

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